Bears

Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no

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Time to sound the alarm? Bears' defense says no

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
3:27 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Throughout most of this season the Bears defense has been little cause for concern. Yardage allowed has been no worse than 10th since the off week. Points allowed has ranked no worse than 10th since week two. The rushing defense has been no worse than No. 4 since week four.

And yet...

The Bears have held just one of their last five opponents to fewer than 20 points per game. That compares with allowing just one of their first five opponents in 2010 to score as many as 20 points in a game. The yardage-per-game ranking that was No. 4 (300) after the second Detroit game has fallen to No. 10 (316). Only the Minnesota Vikings in the Monday Night snowfest (273) totaled less than 300 yards.

I wouldnt say that its time to sound the alarm, linebacker Lance Briggs insisted. Everything weve done is correctable. Plus at the end of the year, offensive coordinators have all years worth of tape to study and scheme off of us. Theres been some good schemes, good game plans against us the last couple games, and its really good for us to see those kinds of things.

We have an idea how teams are going to attack us, whats been successful and what teams are going to continue to do. Weve seen things this year alone that we havent seen in the seven years weve been playing this defense.

The Bears have no plans of any sort to modify dramatically their defensive scheme or even their approach.

The reason is that the sense is not so much that teams are outsmarting the Bears, but rather that the Bears are not playing like the Bears.

I just think that when there are breakdowns, usually theyre our own, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. And they attack us and all of those things. Thats all part of the game. But usually, theyre all correctable and we can adjust to them. And we have our little wrinkle here and there, but basically weve got to go out and really execute well, which were planning on doing.

Sunday would be a very good place to start, even with several starters likely to be pulled at some point of the game. The Packers gained 379 yards on the Bears in their first meeting, fifth-highest output against the defense this season.

Only Tom Brady (351) and Tony Romo (374) passed for more than the 316 yards Aaron Rodgers threw for against the Bears, who did not sack him even once.

Sick Bay

Wide receiver Earl Bennetts ankle improved enough to allow him some work at practice but Bennett is being listed as questionable for Sunday in Green Bay and could be held out of that game to ensure that he is fully recovered when the playoffs start for the Bears two weeks later.

Green Bay placed guard Marshall Newhouse on injured reserve and declared defensive end Cullen Jenkins, safety Atari Bigby, linebacker Frank Zombo and fullback Korey Hall all out with injuries.

No other Packers were listed as anything less than probable, including tackle Chad Clifton, cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Nick Collins and defensive end Ryan Pickett, all of whom were limited in practice at one time or another this week.

Party animal

Lovie Smith isnt making any lavish plans for New Years Eve, just planning on spending the night watching TV in the basement with wife MaryAnne. No game film allowed.

No video, he said. Im going to take tonight off and just spend it with her tonight. Looking forward to that.

But if there isnt any excessive celebration in the works, it doesnt mean that there isnt a true sense of accomplishment as the calendar year comes to a close. Its a great feeling to go through what we have, Smith said. Everybody is upbeat because of what we have accomplished so far. And then to have an opportunity to play against our rival.

Smith clearly likes the idea of facing a team that creates an edge for his own. Indeed, he endorses the NFLs idea of having final games of seasons against division opponents. But even more than that, everyone should play against their main rival the last game of the season, always, where you have a lot to be pumped up about, Smith said. Were looking forward to going up to Lambeau. Weve had some success up there. We hear theyre anxious for us to get up there, and we cant wait to go, too.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears TE situation reaching crisis point, leaving offense virtually short-handed

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USA Today

Bears TE situation reaching crisis point, leaving offense virtually short-handed

While attention has focused on troubles with the offensive line in the search for what’s wrong with the Bears offense, a situation elsewhere is approaching crisis proportions, one with implications in all phases of an offense struggling to find an identity, not just yards and points.

Tight end.

Legendary offense architect Bill Walsh wrote and often said that the tight-end position was a little-understood but hugely significant key to his West Coast concepts, ideally a player who was a built-in mismatch working the seams of a defense and a force blocking in the run game.

“They move around and do a lot of different things,” said coach Matt Nagy. “So it gives you an advantage to be able to get, ‘what defense are they going to play in? Are they going to play sub? Are they going to play base?’ That's where the cat-and-mouse part comes in as coaches every week.”

For the 2019 Bears, tight end has been more mouse than cat, however.

For a variety of reasons, the tight end position – or rather, “positions,” since the Bears have used roster spots on five different ones through just five games already – has become a sinkhole. The absence of production and impact is approaching the levels from the days when Mike Martz ruled as offensive coordinator and relegated the position to irrelevance, getting Greg Olsen out of town and ushering in Brandon Manumaleuna in.

But while Walsh descendants Sean McVay in Los Angeles, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson (Zach Ertz) and Andy Reid in Kansas City (Travis Kelce) continue to operate top-10 offenses with tight-end impact, the offense of Matt Nagy has gotten next to nothing approaching that despite the organization having invested draft and financial capital and roster spots in the position.

None of the five tight ends who’ve cycled through this season has more than Trey Burton’s 11 receptions. No tight end has delivered run or pass blocking; quite the opposite in fact.

It is a new problem for Nagy, who saw Philadelphia tight ends average nearly 60 receptions and a half-dozen TD’s per season over his last four years as an Eagles assistant under Reid. In Kansas City, the offense of which Nagy was a part averaged more than 96 tight-end receptions over Nagy’s final four seasons there.

Far behind the NFL curve

Whether the problems have been talent, injuries (offseason and in-season), quarterback change or a combination, the Bears are effectively playing a man short on offense with their tight end crisis.

Ten NFL tight ends have by themselves currently as many or more receptions as the Bears five tight ends combined (22).

Austin Hooper  Falcons    42

Darren Waller  Raiders    37

Mark Andrews Ravens    34

Zach Ertz          Phila.        33

Evan Engram   Giants       33

Travis Kelce     Chiefs       32

George Kittle    49ers        31

Will Dissly         Seahawks        23

Jason Witten    Cowboys 22

Greg Olsen       Panthers  22

Twenty-nine tight ends have as many or more receptions as Burton. Two teams (Houston, Tampa Bay) have two tight ends with more than Burton’s 11. The Baltimore Ravens, including Andrews, have three.

Delanie Walker Titans      21

Gerald Everett Rams        20

Tyler Higbee    Rams        16

Jared Cook      Saints       15

Darren Fells     Texans     15

Tyler Eifert        Bengals   15

TJ Hockenson Lions        15

Jimmy Graham Packers  14

Vance McDonald Steelers 14

Jack Doyle       Colts         14

James O’Shaughnessy Jaguars 14

Noah Fant        Broncos   14

O.J. Howard     Bucs 13

Geoff Swaim    Jaguars    13

Jordan Akins    Texans     13

Hayden Hurst   Ravens    13

Cameron Brate Bucs        12

Hunter Henry   Chargers  12

Nick Boyle        Ravens    11

Bears

Trey Burton               11

Adam Shaheen        7

Ben Braunecker       2

J.P. Holtz                   2

Bradley Sowell 0      

Burton’s $8 million average annual cost ranks eighth among tight ends, according to numbers compiled by Overthecap.com and Sportrac.com.

Burton was fourth among Bears with 54 receptions last season, six for touchdowns. But he was inactive for the playoff loss because of a reported groin strain, a sports-hernia injury that required offseason surgery. He suffered a second, unrelated groin injury early this season.

Shaheen was set back by injuries annually (chest in 2017, foot/ankle in 2018, back in 2019) but is now approaching “bust” status, a second-round draft choice who has played more than half the snaps only once in his 24-game, three-year career.

Braunecker has been a four-phase special teams player. Holtz was a free-agent pickup who has seen spot duty. Sowell, a converted tackle, has played 11 total snaps in what to this point has been a failed position change.

For the Chicago offense, no tight end has secured the position and the offense has suffered for it.

“It's a very important position,” Nagy insisted, “because in our offense, Trey [Burton], for example, that's our ‘adjustor.’ It's not just the Saints or anybody else. If you go ‘Tiger,’ or ‘12’ (one back, two tight ends) personnel, are [the defenses] going to go base or nickel? So that's where that piece comes in. With Trey, he's able to do well vs. man and well vs. zone so it just helps us out.”

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Bears, Anthony Miller need to better harness talented wide receiver's skillset

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USA Today

Bears, Anthony Miller need to better harness talented wide receiver's skillset

After dropping a third down pass on the Bears’ first drive of the second half in Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders, Anthony Miller did his best Chris Sale impression and took a blade to part of his uniform. 

Well, sort of: Miller had his shoulder harness cut off. He felt it was restricting him to a point that he dropped what was a catchable pass from Chase Daniel, and after it, he hauled in a season-long 32-yard catch that was a significant moment in the Bears’ furious third quarter comeback. 

“I couldn’t reach all the way,” Miller said. “So I cut it off and ended up playing better after that.”

He added: “My harness is gone the rest of the year.”

It was a bit of a revelation that Miller was still even wearing the harness after he underwent offseason shoulder surgery. He described it as “precautionary” and said he wore the harness from training camp through early in the third quarter of that game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

Miller wore a harness for a period in college and did after he dislocated his shoulder for the first time with the Bears in Week 3 of the 2018 season. Miller had an encouraging rookie season in spite of the impairment, leading the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns. 

So the harness may not fully explain why Miller has been, outside of one play, largely invisible in the Bears’ offense this year. In five games, he’s been targeted 15 times, catching eight of those throws for 80 yards without a touchdown. 

Miller, too, has looked frustrated and undisciplined at times. He's been flagged three times this year, representing half of the penalties assessed to the team's wideouts. That total is the third-highest on the team, too, behind left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (8) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (4). 

Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, though, said Miller has been more disciplined in terms of the details of the Bears’ offense — where he lines up, how deep to run his routes, etc. — and positioned his passion as a good thing. 

“I would never trade his desire and his passion for success in a football game with anybody,” Furrey said. “He's got it. We knew that obviously when we drafted him coming out of Memphis, what type of football player he was and how much this game really meant to him and how passionate he was about it. He's not shy about wanting the football.”

For Miller, he’d ideally get a few passes thrown his way early in a game to generate a spark not only for him, but for the offense. Sunday’s game against the Saints may be a good opportunity for the Bears to get Miller the ball early and often, too, given the expectation that New Orleans will use stud cornerback Marshon Lattimore to try to take away Allen Robinson. 

“It’s like, just the momentum for me,” Miller said. “It feels like I’m in the game, it feels like I’m involved. Just like that, if I get the ball, I’m in a better groove.”

Whatever the solution, the Bears need more out of Miller. The explosiveness, the route running ability, the passion, the work ethic — these are all things the Bears liked about him when Ryan Pace traded back into the second round a year and a half ago to draft him. 

For a lagging offense, having him step up wouldn’t solve everything — but it would be part of the solution this Bears team needs. 

“I just feel like something’s coming where I’m going to have to play a huge role,” Miller said, “and I’m gonna be prepared.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.